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Open Thread On The Trayvon Martin Case

Here are links to both the video and the text of President Obama's remarkable, unscripted speech in the White House press room yesterday about Trayvon Martin.  What are your reactions?

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Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 

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I thought President Obama's comments were fitting and at times moving. He said that he could identify himself with Trayvon Martin. He also said that he understood the experiences of young black men being watched in stores, because he could remember being watched in stores when he himself was a young black man.

President Obama discussed many points and points of view. He did not skip over different points of view involved in the overall situation of Trayvon Martin's killing and George Zimmerman's trial. 

I thought President Obama's critique of stand-your-ground laws was especially cogent. He invited us to consider the situation of a legally armed Trayvon Martin carrying a gun and being tracked by George Zimmerman. Under such circumstances, would we want a legally armed Trayvon Martin to stand his ground against George Zimmerman and open fire on him because he felt his life was being threatened by George Zimmerman?  

I found the president's comments poignant, honest, and heartfelt. It has been very sad and painful to see how readily Trayvon's life has been dismissed by many people, as though a black teenaged boy is somehow expendable and of little value. This attitude has often come from people who claim to "respect life." I admire him for encouraging us all to "do something." 

The stand-your-ground laws and the prevalence of guns are both disturbing. At least in the Wild West, the law stated you could only shoot an armed person. SYG appears to state that you can shoot anyone  you find threatening. Had I been the one stalked by an obviously hostile George Zimmerman on a Florida night, I wonder if I could have shot and killed him and claimed it was because I was being followed and was frightened. There appears no requirement to fire a warning shot or to give a warning.    Sadly, this law and the mindset it creates has led to many unnecessary gun deaths. If we are to be truly pro-life, we need to look at getting more sensible gun laws and gun controls. 

 

 

The statement by Trayvon Martin's parents added to the poignancy of the president's remarks:

"The parents of Mr. Martin, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, said they were 'deeply honored and moved' by Mr. Obama’s comments. 'President Obama sees himself in Trayvon and identifies with him,' they said in a statement on Friday. 'This is a beautiful tribute to our boy.'" 

The president's identification of himself as a black man who had felt racially profiled struck an important note for all of us to think about.

A snark: I wish President Obama would pull together his words into sentences and his sentences into paragraphs, and stop with the mid-sentence pauses. Rather than contributing to a sense of sincerity, they convey akwardness and hesitancy.

 

A moving and necessary statement by the president, despite the criticisms and warnings (which should be taken seriously) from Abigail Thernstrom and others (http://www.cnn.com/2013/07/15/opinion/thernstrom-trayvon-martin-obama/in...). No doubt everything about Zimmerman's arrest, trial, and acquittal was legally done, but once again it's a warning not to confuse legality and justice. No doubt, too, that what was really on trial was the idea of laws such as those permitting (encouraging?) stand-your-ground, and gun laws in general.

Obama pulled no punches in his references to the violence of young black men, and indeed might have made the point that not all violent young men are black (or indeed young: look at Whitey Bulger and his friends).

I think this was one of  the most heartfelt speeches  given by a politician in my life time. I'm no historian, but it may be one of the most honest speeches given  since the Gettysburg Address. I know the venue certainly wasn't the same, but I think the honesty was and the challange to think about this is something we've been kicking down the road since the founding fathers. I hope people listen and don't politicize it, but that may have already happened. (sad, sad, sad,)  He spoke off the cuff and I agree with Margaret that there were too many pauses and broken sentences.  

I think the speech embodied a rare combination of civility and honesty about a terribly ugly subject.  When he paused I had the impression that he was searching for just the right word. 

The President said what needed to be said; he couldn't keep silence, after all, considering his past remark, controversial as it became, about how that dead boy could have been his.  It was especially fitting that he added it could have been him, that this is how any African American might respond to the situation.   If critics don't understand what he's talking about, so be it.  There's not a lot more anyone can say to explain.

Beyond that, I can't help but wish he'd refrained from his usual attempt to placate critics by saying politicians shouldn't be the ones to lead in this situation, that they cause more trouble than they solve or somesuch.  For African Americans trapped in states with Stand Your Ground laws, politicians are the only ones who can, in fact, offer hope. The laws need to be changed, and there was a time (in the 1960s) when the federal government seemed willing to play a part in seeing that justice was done. 

 

For clarity, I'm not saying Stand Your Ground laws alone are the culprit, since black shooters are as often acquited by juries as white shooters...when the person shot and killed is black.  (Not so when the person shot is white.)  Prejudice, now referred to as "profiling," is clearly at work here, not simply the law.  What I object to is so de-politicizing the problem that no concrete solutions are offered at all.  When told their only hope for justice is to change an entire culture, people tend to lose heart and give up.

 

I agree, Margaret. It has been absolutely heartbreaking to watch Trayvon's parents struggle with this. As the mother of a 17-year-old boy, I just cannot imagine how hard this must be for them. They've been incredibly gracious in the face of devastating loss. 

President Obama did seem hesitant. He sometimes looks exhausted and discouraged these days. I think he's pushing against a dead weight in trying to get changes made to gun laws. Thankfully, more and more people are coming to see the issue the way he does, especially after the Newtown massacre. 

In response to Margaret O'Brien Steinfels' critique of President Obama's pauses, I would point out that he characteristically sounds like he is delivering pre-recorded speeches even when he is being interviewed. So it was a big step into unfamiliar territory for him to proceed to make his comments without a prepared text to deliver. After hearing him deliver so many canned and polished remarks in other circumstances, I found his approach refreshing to listen to.  

I am absolutely heartened to see that (at this point) every commenter here is supporting POTUS in what he said and how he said it.  I have heard that the Black communities in the past have not been happy with his appearance of not wanting to participate in  the relatively unspoken but nonetheless increasingly belligerent racial fray in this country.

Good on you, Mr. President.  Only one who has the lived experience can talk to those who think they know ... but in most cased, don't have a clue.

Can any white parent imagine having to sit down with their son at an early age and counsel him to be very, very careful if and when he is stopped by the police for anything or even nothing ... or he runs the chance of being beating, jailed or even killed? 

Agree with those who appreciated Obama's message.  (And disagree with those who found fault with it.)

I like it when a president reveals personal thoughts, feelings, etc.  Like when Jimmy Carter, e.g., talked about the thrilling day when electricity arrived in his house, thanks to the TVA. 

I don't think most of us, black or white, can imagine how difficult it must have been for a beautiful, sensitive, brilliant, etc. black boy to grow up in Hawaii, go to Punahou, move to Indonesia, etc., etc.  Like all black boys and men (and girls and women), Obama experienced racism, but in his situation it was distinct.  His white Kansas mother and grandparents did a good job, obviously, but there was no way they could prepare him for the pain.

Now, his identification with Trayvon has (further) inflamed those who hate him.    

 

It is in times like these that the facts and evidence that was presented at trial - or that there was a trial at all - are irrelevant.  The evidence and testimony of witnesses describing what actually happened are to be ignored.

"The evidence and testimony of witnesses describing what actually happened are to be ignored."

Yes, the person who was on the phone with the victim while he was being stalked was ignored by the jury, mocked and vilified by Limbaugh et al., and "mammy-fied" by various other fans of "Captain" Zimmerman.

Something can be legal but not just.

 If someone takes it upon themselves to act as the police, we should hold them to the same higher standard of conduct to that we expect of the police.  

Martin was innocent; he committed no crime and broke no laws, but now he's dead. 

I do not question whether the jury  upheld the law in the this case; nor will i question it if the Martin family wins a civil suit agaisnt Zimmerman.

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;

Martin was innocent;...

Hold on, there.   I understand the incident stirs the emotions, but let's not get carried away.

Oops, sorry about that.

Thomas Farrell: All of Obama's speeches, comments, and responses, canned or not, share the same blank hesitations. Maybe he is thinking, whatever. I think it contributes to the sense many have, conservatives, liberals, and leprechauns that he doesn't really know what he's doing. Since I think he does know what he's doing and saying, most of the time, his mid-sentence blanks leave an unfortunate impression.

A good High School speech teacher could remedy this problem. Are there any left?

 

 

I have witnessed many examples of racial profiling. One of them stands out. I was driving South on the Bronx River Parkway near Yonkers when I noticed that police had pulled over a young well dressed  black male who was standing next to his car , half smiling in wonderment, motioning to us passerbys, implying: "You know what this is about!" Yet most would deem him guilty of something. It is a massive error of communication that faults innocent people because of color while real crime like what the banks are doing with aluminum gets passed over, It is the evil of a Limbaugh and Hannity , who became rich on the backs of the downtrodden, which ignores the gospel and caters to the privileged. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/business/a-shuffle-of-aluminum-but-to-banks-pure-gold.html?hp&_r=0

Here's what is circulated among some conservative blogs:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ebu6Yvzs4Ls

Am I the only person does not know about “lean”?

 

 

 

Helen--

I had never heard of "lean" before either.   Thanks for the link.    It is a further tragedy that in the media's attempt  to sanctify Trayvon Martin, they risk inflicting further pain on his family.

Curious about the disciples of Z, Limbaugh, Hannity, EWTN, Freep, etc., etc.:  

Has anyone broken rank, or do all who are religious and political "conservatives" also believe (or pretend to believe) that Trayvon got what was coming to him from the captain?

One thing that has struck me about this whole tragedy is that neither the victim nor the killer were poor youths from wretched slums where violence is so common.  They were both from middle-class families,  our sort of people.

Then maybe again I shouldn't have been surprised.  More and more I find myself appalled at the violence and toleration of violence by middle-class people.  Just last week Dick Cavett went on and on about how wonderful Tony Soprano was and how much he *enjoyed* the Soprano series -- all six years of it!  OK, OK, so nobody is a total monster, but I fail to see how so many people can become entranced by a ruthless serial murderer just because he loves his family and is sometimes funny and vulnerable.  Sure, we're supposed to love everyone, even the Tony Sopranos of this world, but when we separate them into two parts and ignore the monstrous part, we too are dangerously sick, sick, sick.

Maybe I'm not quite so indifferent to violence as others because I have known six people who have been murdered, and in only two cases were the perps poor black kids.  The victims included two college professors, a man with his own import-export business. and a very successful lawyer.  Only one of them was black.  One was a dear friend whose killer has never been caught. 

My point is that violence has become endemic in the whole culture, and that needs to be addressed more than one single, particularly sad case.  We can begin by considering the toleration and even support and relish many people have for the "entertaining" violence found in such works as The Sopranos, violence which is widespread in TV and the movies.  I'm generally very much against censorship,  but somehow we must find ways to discourage the barbaric "entertainment" that is making us insensitive to such behavior.  Remember the Roman games, folks.  We're not immune.

 

First of all - I believe the President hit a home run with his remarks.  They may be the very best things he's said as president.

Eduardo Penalver, back in the early days of this incident garnering national attention, pointed out on this blog how the facts of the case were a bit of an odd fit for the traditional Southern racial-discrimination template.  But I don't think the news media, in general, ever quite came to terms with the misalignment - nor have a number of civil-right activists and leaders.  I don't think the case has succeeded in galvanizing the country as an instance of racial discrimination, because the facts just don't quite fit the desired narrative.

What seems most clear to me is that if Zimmerman hadn't been armed with a gun, Trayvon almost certainly would be alive today.  Whatever Trayvon's faults and issues, he was still a kid and deserved a chance to grow to maturity and get his life on track.  This is about as clear a case as anyone could wish for to illustrate the dangers of concealed-carry.   Yet, by and large, I don't see that the case is being positioned this way in the national conversation.  I think we're not learning the right lessons from the tragedy.  Or it may just be that, politically, the moment has passed to change hearts about gun ownership and proliferation.

 

Jim Pauwels,

You have exressed my thoughts much better than I could. The obsession with guns on the part of some Americans is appalling to me.  I lived in Florida for 22 years (1990-2010) and my remembrances:

- the mother of one of my son's classmates telling me she had a gun in her purse.

- one of my students, a junior in high school, telling me in 2008 that if Obama got elected he would try to take away his guns, so he was going to go to the gun show to get some more and as I recall his grandmother was paying for it.

I could go on... .

 

 

 

 

Helen, you've probably also seen the stories that sales of guns and ammunition(!) have exploded since Sandy Hook, to the point that ammuntion was a shortage commodity for a while.  There are streams of thought and behavior in our country that diverge so widely from the life I live that it takes quite an effort to mentally bridge the gulf and try to imagine why someone would do such things.  Perhaps the Trayvon Martin case illustrates that, too.

 

Good comments by Joe Scarborough about the vultures who are trying to destroy Trayvon's reputation to prove he had it coming.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/22/joe-scarborough-sean-hannity-tr...

 

Gerelyn -=

Yes,  good for Scarborough -- he actually criticized Hannity severely!   I wonder what Fox News will have to say about it.  Or maybe Fox News is starting to see that the American people are getting sick and tired of the irrationality of some conservatives?  Come to think of it, both Beck and Limbaugh are gone from FN.  Has the worm finally started to turn?

Ah yes, dear Sean Hannity, who attended Sacred Heart Seminary in  Hemstead NY during his middle school years and St Pius X Preparatory Seminary in  Uniondale NY during high school.

Where have we failed?

The more I think about this case the more I think our society is completely confused on issues of Justice.  Trayvon Martin is dead and nothing will bring him back.  There can never be justice for him in this world.  George Zimmerman killed him and will have to live with that for the rest of his life regardless of the trial results.  But the justice system is called the CRIMINAL justice system.  In other words, is George Zimmerman being treated justly for his actions.  Martins death does not automatically make Zimmerman guilty.  Thinking that justice for Martin is tied to guilt for Zimmerman is revenge, not justice.

...if Zimmerman hadn't been armed with a gun, Trayvon almost certainly would be alive today.

True, although it's far from clear that Zimmerman would still be alive.    Or the family of 4 he just rescued...

Really?  The President heard car doors locking as he walk by, and he recalls White women clutching their purses if they were forced to ride elevators with him?  Are you serious?

I think it outrageous for president Obama, a fortunate man who was raised in fairly comfortable circumstances – to be running around in 2013 claiming that store clerks hounded him in the mid-late 1970’s , and to be hearing car doors locking as he walked by as recently as the 1990-2000 timeframe.  It seems like almost unbelievable race-baiting – until I consider the source; it is not so unbelievable.  From the days when Democrats represented slave holders, all the way down to Bull Conner and George Wallace, to today as Democrat party bosses clamor for a federal War on Zimmerman, Democrats have cynically used divisive tactics like race and class warfare to advance their own selfish (and socialist) political agenda. 

Really?  The President heard car doors locking as he walk by, and he recalls White women clutching their purses if they were forced to ride elevators with him?  Are you serious?

I think it outrageous for president Obama, a fortunate man who was raised in fairly comfortable circumstances – to be running around in 2013 claiming that store clerks hounded him in the mid-late 1970’s , and to be hearing car doors locking as he walked by as recently as the 1990-2000 timeframe.  It seems like almost unbelievable race-baiting – until I consider the source; it is not so unbelievable.  From the days when Democrats represented slave holders, all the way down to Bull Conner and George Wallace, to today as Democrat party bosses clamor for a federal War on Zimmerman, Democrats have cynically used divisive tactics like race and class warfare to advance their own selfish (and socialist) political agenda. 

Ken -

Your last reply shows that you do not live in the real American world.  Yes, people still have such automatic reactions as Pres. Obama describe.  I don't clutch my purse when i'm alone in an elevator with a poor black man, but I do wonder if he is he one of the minority of blacks who rob.  I don't like that fact about myself, but I'm a product of my culture and have certain learned responses that are hard to eliminate.  And I'm one of the *nice* guys when it comes to race.  

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